Friday, June 20, 2014

Calculating the Cost Savings of Walk In Tubs

Our organization is contacted regularly by individuals inquiring about walk-in tubs and which government programs, if any, provide financial assistance for them. We've written in depth on that subject here so we won't go into those details in this post. However, for families struggling with the purchase decision and for program administrators and legislators, we want to examine the economic question of if and when there are care cost savings associated with the installation and usage of walk-in bathtubs instead of showers.

There are two ways to look at this question. The most obvious way is to look at the reduced need for personal care assistance. If one is able to safely bath themselves, then a family need not hire a home care professional to provide assistance. The second, somewhat roundabout way of calculating cost savings, is to look at the medical costs associated with bath related falls.

When caring for a loved one at home for a period of one year or more, the purchase of a walk in tub is a sound economic decision.

For families in the situation where they must hire outside assistance to help an elderly love one bath, the calculation is fairly straightforward. Let's assume an individual needs to bath 5 times per week. Family members can provide assistance on both days of the weekend which means on 3 weekdays outside assistance is required for approximately 1 hour / day (although realistically, one cannot hire home care assistance for just one hour.) 3 hours / week times the national average hourly rate for personal care ($20 / hour) equals $60 / week or $3,120 / year. Basic walk-in tubs costs $2,000 - $3,000 and wheelchair accessible tubs cost $3,000 - $4,000. Using this math, we can see that should one be caring for a loved one at home for a period of one year or longer, the installation of a walk in tub makes economic sense.

The more complicated calculation for determining the cost savings of walk-in tubs is by looking at the reduced injury rate. This question is of greater interest to program administrators when considering if and whether to include walk in tub installations as a covered benefit of their program. Our methodology is clearly unscientific. However, our 'napkin numbers' make a case that on the whole including walk-in tubs as a benefit of assistance or insurance programs is also a good economic decision.

The hospitalization costs of one fall can pay for 10 walk in tubs.

By combining the statistics from a variety of different studies, we estimate the following. Each month there are approximately 12,000 falls experienced by American seniors in their bathrooms. One third of which are serious enough to warrant a hospital visit. The CDC finds the average hospitalization cost for a fall injury is almost $35,000. Doing the math, we find that over $1.5B is spent annually on medical costs from bath related falls. Since most seniors are insured by Medicare or Medicaid, both of which are government programs, it seems a 'no brainer' that walk-in tubs should be a covered benefit for the frail elderly at risk who cannot bath themselves otherwise.

It is worth mentioning that this post strictly examines the walk-in tub decision from an economic perspective and that there are other factors that can and should be considered. Most important of which is the increased sense of self-reliance and dignity afforded by being able to manage one's own personal hygiene.